This USL season has been chock full of exciting breakout teams and players. But it’s also been full of disappointments. Here are three of my picks for the biggest let-downs in the USL Championship so far in 2022.
NEW-LOOK INDY ELEVEN
It’s said that April is the cruelest month, but Indy Eleven would give anything to turn the clocks back to the spring. As April turned to May, Indy sat on a four-match win-streak and six-match unbeaten run that had the Circle City dreaming of a playoff run under first-year manager Mark Lowry. Since then, the Eleven have just two wins, culminating in a 1-0 loss to New York Red Bulls II, the worst team in the USL Championship this weekend.
What’s gone wrong?
Inconsistency in defense is a major factor. The Eleven have started four different goalkeepers this season thanks to loan recalls and injuries. Preferred center back Mechack Jerome and fullback Ayoze are both over 30, and the backline is generally slow and susceptible on the break. Further up the pitch, Indy is second-to-last in the league in expected goals per 90, and star signing Solomon Asante (a two-time MVP) hasn’t registered a goal or assist since June 5th. New management was always going to lead to an adjustment, but no one in Indianapolis could’ve expected this downturn.
SEBASTIAN GUENZATTI, TAMPA BAY ROWDIES
The Tampa Bay Rowdies sit comfortably in second place in the Eastern Conference, but their star striker has just one goal in 2022.
Sebastian Guenzatti scored more than any other USL player since 2019, but he’s been supplanted in the Rowdies’ lineup. On Saturday, Guenzatti earned a rare start – his first since May 1 – but was substituted at halftime and watched from the bench as Tampa Bay hung four second-half goals on Loudoun United.
By metrics like tackles won and defensive actions per 90, Guenzatti has never been above average compared to the typical USL forward. When the goals dried up and Tampa Bay lost two consecutive games while conceding three goals, the Uruguayan striker’s time was up. Jake LaCava and Leo Fernandes, two players with experience as wingbacks, joined the forward line in his stead, and the Rowdies started winning games again. It’s hard to see a route back into the starting lineup for the 31-year-old star.
ORANGE COUNTY’S TITLE DEFENSE
When the USL Championship published their official preseason power rankings, Orange County SC ranked first as they added Cubo Torres to a title-winning roster. However, things quickly went south in Southern California. Key starters from the title run like Eric Calvillo, Dillon Powers, and Rob Kiernan left in the offseason, and playoff MVP Ronaldo Damus was sold shortly into the season.
Now, Orange County have the second-fewest points in the Western Conference and the third-worst goal difference.
Milan Iloski, a forward signed from the Real Salt Lake system, has 12 goals to rank second in the West, but no one around him can find a groove. Patrick Rakovsky, the heroic goalkeeper that won two penalty shootouts in the 2021 playoffs, was recently benched thanks to his league-worst Goals Saved Above Average. The central midfield is constantly in flux, and late-arriving loanees regularly fill out the back line. Even if some regression was expected, most people considered Orange County a playoff contender. They’re nowhere near that level.
At least they got six figures for selling Kobi Henry?